A bit like a fractal image, the archipelago of Japan contains the Seto Inland Sea, located between the main islands of Honshū, Shikoku and Kyūshū, which in turn contains an archipelago of small islands. On seven of these islands, the Setouchi International Art Festival takes place for the first time this summer.
Amid the stunning scenery of vulcanic islands basking in hazy heat, the festival blends into the landscape by its concept of offering empty houses and other locations to artists to turn into their own exhibition spaces. Thus visiting the festival involves ferrying back and forth between the islands, wandering around in sleepy villages and stumbling upon artworks in the most unexpected places.
Art Setouchi hosts works by a wide variety of Japanese and international artists, including such names as Christian Boltanski, Leandro Erlich and Bill Viola, with works ranging from installations to sculptures and paintings. And while any modern art exhibition will have its share of Art best dismissed with a shrug (or, in Japan, with a polite smile), here the relationship between the locations and artworks ensures at the very least a pleasantly surreal element in an otherwise traditional environment.
Highlights that come to mind are 'Sea of Time '98' by Tatsuo Miyajima (part of an older Art House Project on Naoshima), which converts a traditional Japanese house into a meditative pond filled with alarm clock digits; 'Storm House' by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, which vividly and cozily recreates the experience of a thunder storm outside; and 'Sound Scenes in Ogijima' by Akinori Matsumoto, a two-part installation involving various "sound objects", including intricate musical instruments as well as rather disturbing mechanical birds.
But that's after visiting only four of the seven islands, so there's a lot more to discover... Art Setouchi 2010 lasts until 31 October - if you happen to be anywhere near, it's a highly recommended detour!
Photos are of 'A Town Between the Sky and the Sea' by Hiromu Nakanishi and Takeo Nakai, 'Sea of Time '98', 'Sea Vine' by Haruki Takahashi and 'Sound Scenes in Ogijima'.